EXCLUSIVE: Petersburg’s new city manager outlines plan to turn city around

PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) —  Petersburg’s new city manager spoke exclusively with 8News Reporter Parker Slaybaugh about her plans to turn the city around after serious financial problems.

From Texas to Maryland to DC, Illinois, California, New Mexico, back to DC, back to Texas and finally Petersburg: That is the path Aretha Ferrell-Benavides took to find her way to becoming the top city official in Petersburg.

Two weeks after being sworn in, she’s had time to learn about the city she now sits at the reigns of and says she knew taking the city manager job in Petersburg would be a challenge.

“Glen Heights, Texas was my first city manager’s job, which I think really prepared me for Petersburg because it was a community that was growing but it also had a couple of financial struggles it was going through,” she explained. “And trying to figure out how to balance the budget correctly and put together revenue projections.”

Coming to Petersburg, Ferrell-Benavides said she knew they, too, were facing major financial struggles.

“I knew of the troubles and I knew of some of the struggles they were having, I thought it would be a great challenge and once I came to the community I was sold,” she explained. “The people are the friendliest I’ve ever met, they care about their city.”

Ferrell-Benavides says she has plans to keep Petersburg from backsliding.

“You have to have a greater connection between the collection of revenue and the expenditures of revenue,” she explained. “if I’m responsible for spending the funds and I don’t have any control or council doesn’t have control over ensuring the funds are coming in, it creates a problem.”

In recent months, possibly outsourcing the city’s water has been a major point of debate in Petersburg. For Ferrell-Benavides, she has yet to take a position on the issue.

“What I recognize is that council has a tough decision ahead of them,” she said. “Looking at our water system, we have some very outdated infrastructure so we’re going to need a solution so whether it’s the sell of it or the wholesale coming with a capital project plan to how we’re going improve it, we’re going to have to come up with something.”

And maybe the biggest challenge she faces is rebuilding trust between citizens and city government. But how will do just that?

“I think what the important thing is not what I say, it’s what I do, and I think they have heard all of the rhetoric in the world about I’m going to do this, just like campaign promises,” Ferrell-Benavides said. “My actions are going to have to speak loud, my availability and my providing the information and I am going to have to show them, they are going to have to see something different.”

Ferrell-Benavides also points to the positives things the city is doing. She had high praise for the fire department as well as the planning department. She says she has a 90-day plan to mainly get to know the city. She said that started with meeting with all department heads. In the near

In the near future, she plans to tour every ward with it’s respective council member to get to know her new home a little better.

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